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Encyclopedia > Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is a popular history of popular folly by Charles Mackay, first published in 1841. The book chronicles and vilifies its targets in three parts: "National Delusions", "Peculiar Follies", and "Philosophical Delusions". Charles Mackay (1814‑1889) was a British poet and journalist, son of a naval officer, born at Perth, and educated at the Royal Caledonian Asylum, London, and at Brussels, but spent much of his early life in France. ... 1841 is a common year starting on Friday (link will take you to calendar). ...


The subjects of Mackay's debunking include alchemy, beards (influence of politics and religion on), witch-hunts, crusades and duels. Present day writers on economics, such as Andrew Tobias, laud the three chapters on economic bubbles. For other uses, see Alchemy (disambiguation). ... A man with a full beard A beard is the hair that grows on a mans chin, cheeks, neck, and the area above the upper lip (the opposite is a clean-shaven face). ... A witch-hunt is a search for suspected witches; it is a type of moral panic. ... The Siege of Antioch, from a medieval miniature painting, during the First Crusade. ... A duel is a formalized type of combat. ... Andrew Tobias (born April 20, 1947) is an American journalist, author and columnist, whose main body of work is on investment, but who has also written on politics, insurance and other topics. ... Currier & Ives print on economic bubbles, 1875. ...


Among the bubbles described by Mackay is the Dutch tulip mania of the early seventeenth century. According to Mackay, during this bubble, speculators from all walks of life bought and sold tulip bulbs and even futures contracts on them. Allegedly, some tulip bulb varieties briefly became the most expensive objects in the world, until the bubble burst in 1637. // Pamphlet from the Dutch tulipomania, printed in 1637 The term tulip mania (alternatively tulipomania) is used metaphorically to refer to any large economic bubble. ... Speculation is the buying, holding, and selling of stocks, commodities, futures, currencies, collectibles, real estate, or any valuable thing to profit from fluctuations in its price as opposed to buying it for use or for income - dividends, rent etc. ... Species See text Tulip (Tulipa) is a genus of about 100 species of flowering plants in the family Liliaceae. ... In finance, a futures contract is a standardized contract, traded on a futures exchange, to buy or sell a certain underlying instrument at a certain date in the future, at a specified price. ... Events February 3 - Tulipmania collapses in Netherlands by government order February 15 - Ferdinand III becomes Holy Roman Emperor December 17 - Shimabara Rebellion erupts in Japan Pierre de Fermat makes a marginal claim to have proof of what would become known as Fermats last theorem. ...


Other bubbles described by Mackay are the South Sea Company bubble of 17111720, and the Mississippi Company bubble of 17191720. Hogarthian image of the South Sea Bubble by Edward Matthew Ward, Tate Gallery More well known than The South Sea Company is perhaps the South Sea Bubble (1711 - September 1720) which is the name given to the economic bubble that occurred through overheated speculation in the company shares during 1720. ... 1711 (MDCCXI) was a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Monday of the 11-day slower Julian calendar). ... // Events January 6 - The Committee of Inquiry on the South Sea Bubble publishes its findings February 11 - Sweden and Prussia sign the (2nd Treaty of Stockholm) declaring peace. ... In August 1717 Scottish businessman John Law acquired a controlling interest in the then derelict Mississippi Company and renamed it the Compagnie d’Occident (or Compagnie du Mississippi). ... // Events January 23 - The Principality of Liechtenstein is created within the Holy Roman Empire April 25 - Daniel Defoe publishes Robinson Crusoe June 10 - Battle of Glen Shiel Prussia conducts Europes first systematic census Miners in Falun, Sweden find an apparently petrified body of Fet-Mats Israelsson in an unused... // Events January 6 - The Committee of Inquiry on the South Sea Bubble publishes its findings February 11 - Sweden and Prussia sign the (2nd Treaty of Stockholm) declaring peace. ...


Quotes

  • "Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one!"
  • "Of all the offspring of Time, Error is the most ancient, and is so old and familiar an acquaintance, that Truth, when discovered, comes upon most of us like an intruder, and meets the intruder's welcome."

Reference

  • Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, with a foreword by Andrew Tobias (1841; New York: Harmony Books, 1980). ISBN 0-517-53919-5

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Hobson's Choice: Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds (466 words)
Charles Mackay wrote this classic in 1841 (link is to the complete 728-page text of the book).
This is not admirable, but neither is it terribly bizarre, since the persecutors of a witch are often prior customers (albeit possibly of another witch or brand of occult belief) whose interest in occult "services" was stimulated by what other people were likely to think.
I also wanted to put forward my own definition of "superstition." There's a popular notion that "one man's gospel is another man's superstition," as if the matter were entirely arbitrary.
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